It is possible to improve your grades by self-editing your essay or assignment before you hand it in. Many students fail to look over their work once they have completed it, or they do not know what to look for. This means that students are handing in work that contains spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, unclear or clumsy writing, and referencing and formatting errors. Some students have even greater problems with issues like the clarity and consistency of their argument or their essay organisation. These types of mistakes are costing you grades! You might be very surprised how much your grades can be improved through editing your own work before you hand it in. This article will explain ten ways you can improve your essay writing yourself. 1. Spelling and Consistency Spelling is a very important aspect of essay writing that many students overlook. Usually this is because of spell-checking programs, upon which many students rely. However, it is important to remember that if you have mistyped a word that is not a spelling mistake, the spell-checker will not find it. For example, you could mistype ‘hole’ instead of ‘whole’, ‘four’ instead of ‘for’, or ‘though’ instead of ‘thought’. Once you have completed writing your first draft, read your work through carefully to look for these kinds of mistakes. It is crucial that you are consistent throughout your essay. This applies to many things such as the spelling of words (some people switch between American and Australian/British English), the spelling of names, and the capitalisation of words. For example, if you are using Australian/British English you must do so throughout your essay. You cannot use the word ‘recognise’ and then later use the word ‘organize’. You must stick with ‘organise.’ If you capitalise the first letter of ‘Church’ the first time, you cannot refer to it as ‘church’ later in your essay. 2. Grammar It is very difficult to write an essay with perfect grammar, as there are many rules that must be followed and thousands of exceptions to these rules that you must know. In order to aim for perfection, the best idea is to hire a professional to edit your essay. However, there are many things that you do yourself to improve the grammar in your essay and assignment writing. Ensuring consistency of tenses is one of these. Often students change tenses in the middle of an essay without realising; changing from present to past or vice versa. A quick check at the completion of writing your essay can ensure that you have used the correct tense throughout the essay. Here is another grammar tip: When writing about a decade, you must write (for example) 1980s not 1980’s. If you write 1980’s, this indicates something belonging to the year 1980, because you are using a possessive apostrophe. To indicate a decade, you must write 1980s. 3. Paragraphing Many students write paragraphs that are too long. A paragraph should only contain one main idea. There is no definite length for a paragraph, but normally you would have at least three paragraphs on one type-written page. Long paragraphs can cause confusion for the reader, since they would contain several ideas, and they make your essay look poorly planned. 4. Repetition Developing a sophisticated and creative writing style can take time. One thing you can do immediately to improve your writing style is ensure that you do not repeat the same words too often in your essays. Using varied language to express yourself with mean that your writing is interesting, and will appear more stylish. 5. Essay Organisation For some reason, many schools and universities do not spend sufficient time teaching students how to organise their essays properly. Beyond the knowledge that an essay must contain an introduction, a body and a conclusion, many students do not have a clear understanding of how to organise an essay correctly. Here are a few tips. When writing an argumentative essay, your introduction must do two things to be considered an introduction. It must first answer the essay question. It must then introduce all the main ideas you will discuss in your essay to convince the reader why your answer is correct. An introduction should be roughly ten per cent of your essay length. So for an essay of 1,000 words, write an introduction of 100 words. Use topic sentences. These are sentences at the beginning of each new topic that tie your essay together. They introduce new topics and explain why they are relevant to the essay question. Topic sentences give your essay an internal logic, and help you to write a convincing argument. 6. Direct and Indirect Quotations This is an example of a direct quotation: Dr. Lisa Lines told me yesterday that ‘students who want to improve their grades should hire a professional editor’. This is an example of an indirect quotation: Dr Lisa Lines is always emphasising how important it is to hire a professional editor if you want to improve your grades. It is preferable not to include too many direct quotations in an essay. Essays of a very high standard are written almost entirely in the student’s own words, with many references to the sources they have used (using indirect quotations). You should only quote directly from a source when it is absolutely necessary, for example, if you had a need to point out a particular person’s opinion on an issue, or if an issue or opinion is particularly controversial. Otherwise, it is highly favourable for you to demonstrate that you have read, understood, and assimilated the source into your own knowledge of the subject. The best way to do that is to present the ideas in your own words and then provide the reference. 7. Formal Language When writing an academic essay, you must use formal language. You cannot use contractions such as ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’. You must write these words out in full (‘do not’, ‘cannot’ or ‘will not’). You should also refrain from using any colloquial language (slang) in an academic essay. 8. Your Research The research component of writing an essay should take up the majority of your time. It is the longest stage of the essay writing process. How much time you spend will depend on your year level, the word length of the essay, the type of essay (minor, major or tutorial paper) and what percentage of your grade it is worth. It also depends on what grade you are aiming for. The way that you record your research is vital to the essay writing process. If you do not record your research properly, you could spend hours (or even days or weeks) doing your research, and then when you begin to write your essay you may discover that you have to go back and re-do things, like search for page numbers or correct quotations. This is a waste of your time! You must record your research in a way that makes essay writing easier for you. It must be accurate, include all the information you need, and give you a chance to record your own ideas and thoughts on the material you are reading as you go along. Do not leave this to the end! 9. Referencing and Bibliography (This point may not be relevant to high school students who are not yet required to include references in their essays.) This stage is crucial to essay writing; however, it is often over-looked by students. If you do not reference properly at university you can get in serious trouble for what is called ‘unintentional plagiarism’. One type of unintentional plagiarism is when students have found information during their research and included it in their essay (even if they have completely re-worded it) but then did not provide a reference. If you do this, you are actually claiming someone else’s work as your own, which is plagiarism. Unintentional plagiarism is very different to deliberate plagiarism, which is when students are cheating on purpose. However, it can get you in just as much trouble. This is why you must learn how to reference correctly! You must find out from your school or university which referencing system you need to use for each subject you study. Then, spend some time learning how to reference using that system correctly. Once you know how to do it, and if you have organised and recorded your research properly, referencing your research as you are writing your essay should be simple. You should have all the information you need right in front of you. That is why it is so important for you to keep track of which books you use and on which page numbers you find information while you are doing your research. 10. Polish Your Writing After you have written your first draft, you should edit it yourself before you have anyone else look at it. This means that you should read it very carefully; looking for mistakes and things you can improve. Since editing requires that you look for a number of different things, it can be a good idea to read over your essay several times. The first time you read your essay, just concentrate on the writing itself. Look for spelling mistakes, things that are not explained clearly, and grammar that could be improved. Do not look for anything else at this stage. The second time you read your essay, look for problems with your content. This is the point at which you check to see if the information you have used to write your essay is correct, if you have answered the question properly, and if you have argued your case successfully. Once you have corrected your essay as well as you can yourself, it is recommended that you hire a professional, academic editor.